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Nearly six months after a Hardin Circuit Court judge dismissed criminal charges without prejudice, Brent Burke now finds himself a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit locally.
The civil case alleges three counts of wrongful death, death by deadly weapon and loss of consortium.
Tracy Burke’s brother, David Wilburn, and her two children with Burke are listed as the plaintiffs. The complaint identifies Wilburn as administrator of Tracy Burke’s estate and legal guardian of the Burke children.
Brent Burke is accused in the Sept. 11, 2007, shooting deaths of Tracy Burke, his estranged wife, and her former mother-in-law, Karen Comer.
The Burke children, 2 and 4 years old at the time, and their stepbrother, who was 9, were the only eyewitnesses to the killings at Comer’s Rineyville home. They were alone in the house for more than 12 hours before the 9-year-old called 911.
Both the stepbrother and the oldest of the two Burke children have testified in previous court proceedings, during which they identified Burke to be the shooter. However, the validity and consistency of their allegations have been questioned by attorneys.
The complaint filed Friday alleges Burke’s “intentional, willful and malicious use of a deadly weapon” caused the deaths of Tracy Burke and Comer.
For the estate, Tracy Burke’s death incurred funeral expenses and the loss of her earning capacity, and for the minor children, the loss of affection and companionship, according to the complaint.
“On behalf of the minor children ... a judgment against the Defendant Brent Burke, the punitive damages for his intentional, willful, and malicious acts of killing their mother in an amount to be determined by a jury in this action,” the complaint reads.
The plaintiffs are being represented by local attorneys Jeremy and Carey Aldridge.
The complaint identifies that a 9mm Ruger handgun is believed to be the “deadly weapon.” Court proceedings have revealed Burke owns this type of handgun.
Kentucky State Police Detective Larry Walker, the lead investigator, has testified investigators believe a 9mm handgun was the murder weapon.
Walker stated previously that neither Burke’s handgun nor a murder weapon of any kind has ever been found. Furthermore, police had no physical evidence tying Burke to the Rineyville crime scene.
After four mistrials in the case, charges against Burke in Hardin County were dismissed without prejudice. Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Shaw cited a lack of physical evidence as one reason for dropping the charges.
While a jury in a criminal trial must find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof in a civil case is lower. Prosecutors must prove the defendant is guilty by a preponderance of evidence, meaning it is more likely true than not.
Burke was released into the custody of Fort Campbell officials the day charges were dismissed. The military since has charged him with murder and burglary. He will face general court martial Feb. 6.
The former military police officer is lodged in the Christian County jail without bond. Burke has spent the majority of the last four years in jail.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.